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Ndamukong Suh’s Release Is a Warning to NFL Teams About the Pitfalls of Spending Big

The defensive tackle played excellently for Miami, but his mammoth salary had him on a path to becoming a salary-cap casualty no matter what

Ndamukong Suh Getty Images

The News

The Dolphins are reportedly planning to release defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh almost three years to the day after signing him to a six-year contract with $60 million guaranteed that had the potential to be worth as much as $114.4 million. The Dolphins will save $17 million in cap space while eating $9.1 million of dead money in 2018 and $13.1 million in 2019 if they wait until Wednesday to make the move official, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. The decision was first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Darlington.

Money to Burn

Let’s check in for a live look at Dolphins headquarters.

The Joker standing in front of a fire saying “Everything burns” Warner Bros. Pictures

Can the Dolphins cutting Suh be a surprise if it was expected from the moment he signed his mammoth contract in 2015? Suh played about as well as Miami could have hoped, consistently performing like a top-five interior defender in the league. The problem is that his $26.1 million cap hit in 2018 would be justifiable only if he were one of the top five interior defenders of all time.

Before signing with Miami, Suh had made the All-Pro team three times in his first five seasons with the Lions. He was excellent with the Dolphins, even though he was downgraded from All-Pro to Pro Bowler, but Miami had far too many holes to be paying 14.3 percent of its salary cap to anyone who isn’t a quarterback. (For reference, the only other person who makes more than 7 percent of the Dolphins’ cap is Ryan Tannehill.) Suh’s 2019 dead-money figure is currently the third-highest cap hit on the entire team next season.

It’s a reminder that even great non-quarterbacks can’t turn around a roster that isn’t good enough to compete. Most teams understand this. Miami never learns. The team shelled out for outside linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler in 2013, and two years later it got rid of both and brought in Suh. Now the team is releasing Suh, but sent a draft pick to Los Angeles for defensive end Robert Quinn, a far less impactful player whose $11.4 million cap hit offsets most of the savings from Suh’s release. While the Miami Marlins are selling everything not nailed to their ballpark, the Dolphins are giving away money like Drake in “God’s Plan.”

Ghosts of Free-Agency Past

Suh’s release feels like hilariously on-the-nose foreshadowing ahead of a free-agency period when NFL teams are poised to throw around cash like Marlins owner Bruce Sherman does only in his nightmares. With a rising cap lessening the danger of big-money deals and the Patriots and Eagles showing that teams can compete by signing players to large contracts (Stephon Gilmore, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, and a half-dozen other players), plenty of franchises may look to emulate their success by spending lavishly. The Dolphins’ mishandling of Suh is a giant, flashing neon warning sign reminding teams to negotiate responsibly in free agency.

On the flip side, what a moment for Suh. As Jay-Z once said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” Hov’s Roc Nation negotiated Suh’s lucrative deal, and now it will have the pleasure of finding him a new home. Suh would be a welcome addition on just about any Super Bowl contender, and he may change the calculus of teams with money to blow. At 31 years old, he can cash in on one last major deal or decide to sign with a contender. Either way, Suh is set.